Mifflin County, Pennsylvania

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County government offices are located at 20 North Wayne Street, Lewistown PA 17044; phone: 717‑248‑6733.


Historical Background [1]

Before settlers came to Mifflin County, the area was home to several tribes of Native Americans The first were the Juniata and the Susquehanna who warred with the Mohawks in what is now New York State. Though the Pennsylvania tribes were victorious at first, the Mohawks invaded in 1640 completely destroying the Juniata and Susquehanna with the aid of French firearms. This offensive caused a lull in the Indian occupation until the Shawnee and Delaware migrated to the area in the 1700s. Two of the most well known chiefs were Chief Kishacoquillas of the Shawnee and Chief Logan of the Iroquois. The Shawnee chief was friendly to the English, warning settlers of attacks from other tribes on several occasions. The English held Chief Kishacoquillas in high regard, so much so that a 1749 map of the Juniata River Valley identifies a creek that bears his name. Likewise, Chief Logan was said to be an "impressive Indian and a real gentleman." Immediately following William Penn's 1754 Albany Purchase, Scotch-Irish traders began to come to this area. The first of which was Arthur Buchanan who in 1754 set up his trading post at the old Shawnee Village of Ohesson (Note that this is the current location of the Lewistown Hotel). By the end of the year, there were 40 clearings set up along the Juniata River for living and commerce. However, these first settlers, and those who tried again in 1763, were forced by the Indians to retreat to Carlisle. By 1765, the Indians were finally quelled allowing permanent settlements that housed upwards of 80 families in the Juniata Valley. These societies were self-sufficient except for cloth, guns, and powder, which could be obtained in exchange for floating valuable walnut logs, furs, and whiskey down the Juniata.

The Juniata River was used for waterpower to run gristmills, sawmills, a tannery, and 10 distilleries at a site later to be known as Lewistown. Soon, the discovery of iron ore and the making of iron at Freedom Forge in 1775 caused the economy to flourish. During this time in 1783, the Scotch-Irish traders were joined by an inflow of German farmers from Northampton and Berks Counties and Amish moving north from Lancaster. In 1798, William Lewis founded the Hope Furnace. By 1836, five such furnaces were in operation, and iron and charcoal began to replace fur and grain as the largest local economic pursuits.

Firmly settled with a flourishing economy, Mifflin County was officially carved from Cumberland and Northumberland Counties in 1789 and named for Thomas Mifflin, the first governor of the commonwealth under the Constitution of 1790. Lewistown became the County seat, and the people's first request of the state was for a road system. Subsequently in 1807, the Pennsylvania Legislature contracted to have a turnpike built to connect Harrisburg and Lewistown. Construction of the pike finished in 1817 clearing the way for the production of a newspaper, gun barrels, bricks, wool, and other manufacturing and service industries. By 1830, Mifflin County had doubled in population and gone from a self-sufficient, fledgling settlement to a surplus producing, specialized, industrial area.

Around 1829, the Pennsylvania Canal was finished and turned Lewistown into the shipping center for Mifflin and Centre Counties. As a result, the population doubled again. The canal caused hotels and warehouses to spring up all over the area. In particular, two new businesses were introduced, Logan Foundry in 1842 and Duncan (later Glamorgan) Furnace in 1846. The canal's glory was impacted by the arrival of the railroad in 1849, but remained operational until 1889. The rail caused other businesses to thrive while shipping, the County's life-line, suffered. A local depression followed.

Due to the iron ore's high sulfur content, which made for weak steel, and the depleted lumber supplies in 1890, companies like Standard Steel and Logan Iron & Steel saved themselves by importing raw materials. Limestone quarries, the Susquehanna Silk Mill in 1909, the Ganister Brick Company in 1910, and the Newton-Hamilton Plant of Aetna Explosive Company in 1915, all of which provided employment for many workers, supplemented the failing iron and lumber industries. Things began to move quickly with the introduction of street cars, hard surfaced roads, a sewer system, a hospital, a YMCA, and the onset of World War I. The war caused a temporary boom for Standard and Logan but was followed by the Depression of the 1930s and a local unemployment rate of 30.8 percent. The Depression transitioned into another boom during World War II. Mifflin County was sustained by it's diversified industry.

For over 50 years, the largest textile company in the County was the American Viscose Corporation, which at one time had over 5,000 employees. In the 1920s, one of their contributions to the area was the development of the company-built community of Juniata Terrace. American Viscose's role in the area changed dramatically after the Flood of 1972 caused by Hurricane Agnes, which resulted in the closure of the plant as well as many other plant layoffs in the area, including Standard Steel.

Brief History [2]

Formed September 19, 1789; named for General Thomas Mifflin, then President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, 1788-90, and first Governor under the Constitution of 1790. Scenery throughout is very beautiful; the twelve mile stretch of State highway through the famous long Lewistown Narrows gives glimpses of the Juniata, the peerless little river of more song and romance than any other in America, made famous by Mrs. Sullivan's song, "The Beautiful Blue Juniata," telling the love story of Alfarata, the roving Indian girl; the space between the mountains is barely wide enough to contain the highway, canal, river, and railroad. Mountains slope one thousand feet and are popular hunting grounds for bear and wild turkeys; quite a number of caves are found in the limestone formations of this county, though not easily accessible; Alexander's, in Kishacoquillas Valley, abounds in stalactites and stalagmites, preserving in midsummer ice formed in winter; Naginey's Cave, near Milroy, is most spacious; Hanawalt's Cave, near McVeytown, is of vast dimensions and contains calcareous concretions; crude saltpetre has been obtained here; McVeytown is birthplace of Joseph Trimble Rothrock, M.D.

Celebrated springs are Mifflin, near Painterville Station, has medicinal waters; and Logan's, six miles from Lewistown, near Reedsville, on left of the old stage road between Lewistown and Bellefonte, Center County; here the Mingo Chief, Logan, friend of white man, Shikellimy's son, had his cabin, prior to 1771, when he left this region; he made the famous speech sent to Lord Dunmore in 1774, considered, among American classics, as a rare specimen of Indian oratory: "I appeal to any white man to say if ever he entered Logan's cabin hungry, and he gave him not meat; if he ever came cold and naked, and he clothed him not; during the course of the last long bloody war Logan remained idle in his cabin, an advocate for peace. Such was my love for the whites that my countrymen pointed at me as they passed, and said: 'Logan is the friend of white men.' I had even thought to have lived with you, but for the injuries of one man, Colonel Cresap, the last spring, in cold blood and unprovoked, murdered all the relations of Logan, not sparing even my women and children; there runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature; this called on me for revenge; I have sought it; I have killed many; I have glutted my vengeance; for my country, I rejoice at the beams of peace, but do not think that mine is the joy of fear; Logan never felt fear. Logan will not turn on his heel to save his life; who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one!" (Colonel Michael Cresap was not responsible for the murder of Logan's family; some white men, led by a liquor dealer, murdered them.)

First settlers, Scotch-Irish, in 1754, were not molested by Indians until 1756. Fort Granville was built, one mile northwest of Lewistown, on the old turnpike, site to be marked by the Pennsylvania State Historical Society; it was destroyed when the canal was constructed. In 1829 the Pennsylvania Canal was opened and first packet boat run from Lewistown to Mifflintown. Chief industries are agriculture, and iron and steel works. Iron ore of the best quality abounds; two furnaces, belonging to the Glamorgan Iron Company, were destroyed in July, 1874, by a tornado that left scarcely a property without damage; the bridge over the Juniata was also destroyed, rebuilt, and again destroyed by ice freshets in December, 1874, and February, 1875. In Limestone Ridge, extending from Kishacoquillas Creek, is found hard, white sandstone, almost pure silicon, used in glass manufacture.

Lewistown, population 9849, made county seat, 1790, was at first Kishacoquillas' Village, a chief of the Shawnees, with a population in 1731, of twenty families, located at the mouth of the stream. Courthouse, facing the square, brick, colonial with Ionic portico, and cupola, built, 1843, enlarged in the rear. Granite monument, dedicated, 1906, in honor of Mifflin County soldiers and sailors, is in the square. One block away on South Main Street is the Kishacoquillas Creek bridge, stone and concrete, built, 1902, a reconstruction of the old two-arch stone bridge built in 1807, the first was wood, in 1794; on the left is an old stone building, erected about 1794, a historic landmark that has served for many uses, once the "Seven Stars Inn," 1828-29; also a Masonic hall, 1830-39, it has two cellars, one beneath the other. At a point along the creek, just above the old building, is where Commodore David Conner, as a boy, made little boats and pitted them against each other in mimic warfare, thus foreshadowing his brilliant naval career in the War of 1812 and the Mexican War. Just above, on the high bank, fronting on Water and Brown Streets, is Lewistown's oldest burial grounds. Here are the graves of the Buchanan family, first settlers and owners of the land on which Lewistown is built. One mile east of Lewis-town, on the oldest wagon and stage road running parallel with the present state highway, is an old stone arch bridge, over one hundred years old, a favorite subject for artists; it is near the bridge crossing Jacks Creek, on the state highway through Lewistown Narrows. Mount Union, on southern boundary, lies at entrance to Jacks Narrows, made by the river forcing its way through Jacks Mountain.

  1. Mifflin County Planning Commission, Mifflin County Comprehensive Plan, 2000, Lewistown, PA 17044
  2. Archambault, A. Margaretta (ed), A Guide Book of Art, Architecture, and Historic Interests in Pennsylvania, The John C. Winston Company, Philadelphia, 1924

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